I was first aware it was the Hebrew month of Elul as we drove through Atlantic City on our way out to dinner. I was with my husband, his sisters and their husbands for a grown-up night out to dinner while my in-laws watched 10 of their grandchildren back at the beach house. The moon was rising over the intercostal waters between the mainland and the barrier islands of the New Jersey shore. It was full and red and a signal that it was just a little over two weeks before the new Jewish Year.
In Hebrew calendar cycle, the moon is always full on the 15th of the month, so I knew from that red moon rising over casinos and billboards promising everyone a good time, that we were at the halfway point of the month of introspection and spiritual preparation. A strange place I know to start getting all introspective and spiritual, but a wave of regret passed over me because I had yet to think about the new year. I had yet to hear the sound of the ram’s horn, or the shofar, that is supposed to wake up Jews out of their sleepy summertime complacency and think about repentance and self-improvement.
In contrast with January 1, I consider this New Year truly the new year, even though to most of the world, the calendar will still read the same year for a few more months. But think of the physical changes that are take place right now: the summer is over, the days grow shorter, a new school year begins. The heat is leaving the air. In fact, on our way to Slichot services this evening, I wished I had worn a heavier sweater. Funny thing is, just yesterday, it was so hot I wished I had a nearby pool to jump into.
These changes seem far more apparent than the new year in January. In Rochester, it will be just as ice-cold on December 31 as it will be on January 1.
Slicha – Excuse me. Slichot – pardon us, are some of the translations from the Hebrew.
In Judaism, Slichot – this little known and sparsely attended service — occurs on the Saturday night immediately preceding Rosh Hashanah. It serves as a warm-up to the big show that are the services of Rosh Hashanah. Slichot includes a sampling of prayers that we will recite just days away, including the confession of our transgressions.
Now, in Judaism, there is no direct translation for the word sin. The Hebrew word chet means to “miss the mark.” It assumes that we tried to to the right thing, but for whatever reason, we went astray and failed. The season of repentance is our chance to get us back on the right path.
At services, my rabbi suggested to his congregants to make a list of all the places we missed the mark this year. And, like the liturgy of the High Holidays, I know he doesn’t mean “I’m sorry I ate a bacon double cheeseburger” or “I’m sorry I went to the movies on Friday night instead of having Shabbat dinner.”
No, the list of transgressions we need to make for ourselves in the season of repentence is much more personal, much more interpersonal.
So here goes my list:
- I’ve yelled. I’ve yelled at my kids for not cleaning up after themselves.
- I’ve yelled at my husband. Even worse, I’ve spoken to my husband in harsh tones and unkind words
- I’ve drawn too many quick conclusions of others. I’ve assumed the worst in people instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt.
- I’ve ignored or lost touch with friends, neighbors and family who may have needed my help.
- I’ve talked too much when I should have been listening. I’ve made too much talk about me when I should have asked more about you.
- I’ve held grudges
- I’ve shown indifference
- I’ve let my emotions get the better of me
For all these things, I will ask not of God to forgive me, but I will have to ask forgiveness of the people I may have hurt. For all these things, please this year make me a better mother, a better friend, a better wife, daughter. And a better teacher.
To all those who observe, a sweet, healthy new year!